TEACHERS last night expressed concern over a decline in students taking foreign languages as another set of record GCSE results were unveiled.

Hundreds of schools across the region saw a rise in GCSE pass rates this year, mirroring the national picture.

Overall, 21.6 per cent of grades were awarded an A or A*, an increase of 0.9 per cent on last year, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications.

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More than 67.1 per cent of entries were at grades A* to C, up from 65.7 per cent last summer, an increase of 1.4 per cent.

The overall pass rate at A* to G rose to 98.6 per cent from 98.4 per cent last year.

Last night, Elaine Kay, regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, praised youngsters’ efforts and said she “thoroughly condemned”

attempts in some quarters to undermine the credibility of GCSEs.

However, she said she was concerned about the decreasing take-up of foreign languages, particularly French and German, which dropped 6.6 per cent and 4.2 per cent respectively, and blamed this on the Government making them optional.

Ms Kay said: “Very many young people may well regret in future that they should have taken a foreign language, but didn’t do so because this subject area is now optional.”

The publication of this year’s GCSE results coincided with research commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) showing that young people in the North-East want to continue in the education system for longer than they had previo u s l y planned, with job prospects for many school leavers looking increasingly bleak amid the continuing recession.

Twenty per cent of students in the North-East aged 15 or 16, who were questioned in the sample survey, claimed to have changed their minds about leaving school after GCSEs, instead choosing to undertake new qualifications or training routes rather than paid employment.

Meanwhile, in Darlington, results showed that 51.1 per cent of pupils achieved five or more A* to C grade GCSEs, including maths and English, compared to 47.7 per cent last year.

Eastbourne CE Academy – now St Aidan’s Church of England Academy – was among those praising pupils’ efforts with 63 per cent of pupils gaining five A* to C grades – up from 47 per cent – and more than 40 per cent gaining the same benchmark including English and maths, up from 28 per cent.

The results came only a week before the Academy opens its £16.4m building, which has been constructed next to its existing site in The Fairway, off Yarm Road.

Principal Alison Appleyard said: “The GCSE results have shown the progress that we are making.”

Elsewhere in County Durham, the percentage of pupils achieving at least five A* to C grades, including English and maths, rose by more than four per cent, taking the number of pupils hitting the national benchmark to just under 49 per cent.

This marked the seventh successive year of improvements in GCSE results for schools in the county.

At Tanfield School, in Stanley, which has pioneered the new diploma qualifications being used this year for the first time, 62.3 per cent of pupils achieved five or more A* to C grades including English and Maths – up 15 per cent on last year.

At Belmont School Community Arts College, in Durham, 64 per cent of pupils scored at least five A* to Cs, with 51 per cent achieving at least five A* to Cs, including English and maths.

This was despite uncertainty over the school’s future – Durham County Council wants to merge Belmont and Durham Gilesgate Sports College into an academy.

Headteacher Judith Wilkinson said: “It’s a credit to my staff, because it’s been an incredibly hard year for them.”

At St John’s Catholic school, in Bishop Auckland, 89 per cent of students achieved five A* to C grades, with 64 per cent including maths and English.

In Shildon, at Sunnydale Community College, 39 per cent of students achieved five or more A* to C grades, including maths and English, an 11 per cent rise from last year.

A total of 81 per cent of pupils gained five or more A* to C grades, up from 57 per cent last year.

Headteacher Sue Byrne said: “Everyone at the school is absolutely delighted with these results. They are a credit to the efforts of the students, and the staff who taught them.”

At Barnard Castle School, in Teesdale, 50 per cent of all grades were A* or A, 15 pupils achieved a full set of A* and A grades, and 94 per cent of all grades were between A* and C.

Four pupils at the independent Queen Mary’s School, Topcliffe, near Thirsk, achieved a perfect ten A and A* grades.

They were Hebe Beardsall and Natasha Hall, both from Ripon, Charlotte Mander, from Sandhutton, near Thirsk, and Laura Repton, from Thirsk. Two North Yorkshire schools celebrated yesterday after a pioneering partnership that saw them sharing staff.

Risedale Sports and Community College, at Hipswell, near Catterick, became a National Challenge school last year and turned to Northallerton College for support.

Yesterday, Risedale saw the number of pupils gaining A* to C grades, including English and maths results, jump from 18 to 32 per cent.

John Kelly, associate principal for Risedale Sports and Community College, said: “This has been a challengin year for the college. That they have achieved so much speaks volumes for their hard work and the commitment of their teachers.”

At Northallerton College, 75 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C passes, with 58 per cent including maths and English.

In east Cleveland, Guisborough’s Laurence Jackson School said it had achieved the best GCSE results in its history.

Three-quarters of all pupils achieved five A* to C grades – exceeding the school’s targets – 56 per cent including maths and English.

Yarm School achieved 100 per cent of pupils securing at least five passes at grade A* to C for the fifth year in succession.

The 97 teenagers averaged ten passes each at A* to C between them, with 20 pupils attaining straight A* and A grades.

Unity City Academy, in east Middlesbrough, achieved its best results to date with 68 per cent of pupils achieving at least five A* to C grades, a 29 per cent improvement on last year.

Principal Patricia Tovey said: “The results demonstrate the continued improvement of all aspects of academy life.

Top-grade teenager overcomes blindness

A TEENAGER who went blind while studying for her GCSEs is celebrating after scoring top grades.

Laura Tambin, 16, lost her sight in January last year, after years of struggling with a hereditary glaucoma which had seen her undergo more than 30 eye operations.

The setback meant Laura, who is also hard of hearing, not only had to study for her exams, but also learn Braille.

Despite all that, she gained an A, two Bs, four Cs and a D at GCSE.

She said: “The teachers have been really good. It’s meant a lot of working hard, but I’m really pleased with my results.”

Judith Carr, Laura’s teaching support assistant at Belmont School Community Arts College, Durham, said: “Laura’s achievements are absolutely brilliant. She’s coped very well.”

Laura’s mother Elaine said: “Laura’s had a lot of eye operations and she’s had to put a lot of extra work in.”

The teenager, from Kelloe, near Durham, will now leave home for a residential college for the blind in Worcester, where she hopes to spend three years studying law and health and social care. Her ambition is to become a lawyer.

Other high achievers at Belmont School included Will Hastie, who gained five A*s, three As and three Bs and Zoe Pouton, who gained two A*s, six As and three Bs.

Six of the best at Polam Hall

SIX pupils at a Darlington school achieved a full set of ten A* and A grades in their GCSEs.

The girls at Polam Hall School were yesterday celebrating with friends after receiving their results.

The girls were Juliet Edwards- Heathcote, Esme Montgomery, Katie Riley, Sarah Scott, Anna Stephens and Lara Tysseling. Nearly half the papers taken at the school were graded A* or A with a third of the students gaining seven or more A* and A grades.

Modern Languages, Spanish, German and Chinese all gained 100 per cent A* and A pass rate.

Headmistress Marie Green said: “It is always a pleasure to see hard work rewarded.”

Record breakers

LAST year’s most improved school in the North-East has broken its results record after achieving a 100 per cent pass rate.

All 166 year 11 pupils at Parkside Sports and ICT College, in Willington, County Durham, achieved at least eight A* to C grades, breaking the school’s record of 80 per cent, which was set last year.

53 per cent of students gained A* to C grades in maths and English, and 30 per cent achieved at least three A* and A grades.

Headteacher Linda Davies said: “These are the best-ever results at Parkside, and we are immensely proud of our students.

“They have worked so hard this year, and have been expertly guided and supported by our superb team of teachers and support staff. Our rigorous tracking system, where the attainment and achievement of every child is used to challenge underachievement at every level, is used in open communication with parents to allow them to work with us and ensure every student achieves the best they can.”

David Kingston, chairman of the governors, said: “These astonishing results are down to the hard work, dedication, and commitment of our outstanding students, and our amazing team of teachers and support staff.”